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"1984" Plus 40; Worthy of Note

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"1984" Plus 40

"2024" is a simultaneously hilarious and sad new graphic novel by social cartoonist/columnist Ted Rall, (NBM Books, $16.95). The book touts itself as an Orwellian vision of the not-so-distant future.

We are immediately introduced to Winston, our hero, a single, middle-management type living in Canamexicusa (North America has become a single country after years of NAFTA, free trade and corporate mergers). Winston's WebTV, like everyone's, is on even when he sleeps. He's always buying things out of boredom. All that matters to him is "getting by, getting ahead and getting dead."

Winston believes and emulates (with appropriate ironic detachment) everything he sees on WebTV. His narrow perception allows him to spew hate for Euros, homos, militia nuts and atheists, and then exclaim "What a hottie!" at the sight of his manager, Julia, all in the space of three pages. During their first tryst, Julia dryly asks him, "You gonna do me or what?"

Rall jumps just 23 years into a future where economics is the only concern. No one remembers anything, wants to or needs to. Paper is extinct and electronic archives are easily revised, so history is an extremely relative term. We learn that Spiro Agnew was taken out and shot during the middle of the playoffs. Successful people are "hard, pierced and vapid," and Rall's unique drawing style — awkward figures in stiff positions — comically exaggerates them to great effect.

Rall's work loosely follows Orwell's, and when our new Winston is caught it's for violating copyright law, the only felony that exists besides possession of drugs and uttering obscenities. (He bought bootlegged archaic video games.) His interrogator grills him: "Not even the tiniest smidgen of originality can be allowed to take root, for all society — especially free-market society — relies on mass-media-dictated groupthink ... . You must be returned to the perfect state of blissful apathy.…"

"That's cool," Winston replies. The sarcasm and satire which riddle Rall's work makes Winston's response seem all the more real, and Rall suggests that maybe by 2024 the rose-colored glasses have been removed.

"Do you think something really important has been lost?" Julia asks. "Yes. No. Whatever." Winston responds, and Rall coins the motto of the new millennium. — Wayne Melton

Worthy of Note

John Shelby Spong, retired bishop of Newark and former rector at St. Paul's Church in Richmond (1969-1976) has published a new book, "A New Christianity for a New World, Why Traditional Faith is Dying and How a New Faith is Being Born" (Harper San Francisco $24). This sequel to "Why Christianity Must Change or Die" consists of Spong's expansion of the William Belden Noble Lectures that he gave at Harvard University in March 2000. — Rozanne Epps

Opening "Five Quarters of the Orange" (William Morrow & Co., $25) is like re-tasting childhood. In this vivid novel by Joanne Harris, who has written two other novels, among them "Chocolat," a woman formerly known as Framboise Dartigen unearths a secret which has troubled her since her coming of age in occupied France. The author may be half English, but her writing's sly directness smacks of the French. This is a highly recommended bitter tonic. — Ann Bayliss

As we all know, the jury system is one of the bulwarks of our legal system. For this reason, if for no other, "A Trial by Jury" by D. Graham Burnett (Knopf $21) should be of interest. Burnett, a faculty member at Princeton, served on a jury in a capital murder case in New York City. In almost painful detail, he tells us how the group of disparate individuals argued and finally came to a decision. The story does not read as a thriller and at times becomes tedious as well as confusing, but for those interested in justice, it should be enlightening, and maybe discouraging. — R.E.

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